Kids Code Coalition Urges Vermont Legislators to Override Veto



MONTPELIER – As members of Vermont’s General Assembly head to the Capitol for a one-day veto override voting session, the Vermont Kids Code Coalition sent a message to legislators summarizing the evidence about the urgent need to protect young people online by voting “yes” on H.121:

Key Reasons for VT Lawmakers to Override H.121 Kids Code Veto

Today, YOU have a critical opportunity to override a veto on essential legislation designed to protect kids, teens and families. The bill, H.121, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass, previously sailed through both chambers with overwhelming support, reflecting extensive committee work and community consultations. The Kids Code portions of the bill were unanimously passed, and are tailored to Vermont’s needs, balancing both local tech innovation with child safety. Vermont businesses like Front Porch Forum have shown strong support, demonstrating the feasibility of combining tech innovation, child safety and thriving small businesses. Despite a last-minute Big Tech ad campaign and misleading claims about a California lawsuit, Vermonters remain committed to keeping kids safe online and protecting their privacy.

WHY NOW: Rates of youth depression, anxiety, eating disorders and drug overdoses are skyrocketing as kids and teens spend more and more time online. Some of the youth crises the legislation would address:

  • Mental health crisis – the alarming rise in depression, anxiety, and eating disorders among children and teens is strongly linked with unregulated social media platforms, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to issue a rare warning and call to action.

Source: The State of Vermont’s Children in Review Building Bright Futures, 2023

  • Suicide crisis – Increasing rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in young people are exacerbated by cyberbullying, exposure to self-harm content, and the lack of adequate online safeguards.
  • Kids and families in Vermont are crying out for protections from systematic cyberbullying like the situation at Champlain Valley Union High School that made national news last week.

A new expose in Rolling Stone explains how surging teen fentanyl overdoses relate directly to platform design choices: “Why the dealers had moved to Snapchat: It was effectively a safe space for them. All forensics vanished within 24 hours, wiped clean by the delete function of the app. That wasn’t a bug but a feature of Snap, the code choice that sent its fortunes soaring.”

Drug use & overdose deaths – Online platforms promoting drug use and facilitating predatory contact that leads to the sale of illegal drugs contribute to substance abuse among teens, putting their health, futures and lives at risk.

Our kids can’t wait: YOU must act now to prevent further harm and safeguard children’s online experiences with common-sense safety-by-design and privacy-by-default strategies. The Vermont General Assembly has the right and duty to protect its residents, and support for the Kids Code unites diverse groups across political divides. Governor Scott’s veto overlooks months of diligent work with the Attorney General’s office to ensure the Kids Code’s constitutionality and enforceability. Leading legal experts, including bipartisan Attorneys General from 19 states, have criticized the lawsuit Governor Scott cited, calling it “overbroad and mistaken.” Wide-ranging support from Vermont parents, youth advocates, medical professionals and local business leaders demonstrates the urgency of this issue and the need for Vermont legislators to protect kids online.

FACT CHECK: Governor Scott says Vermont should wait for the tech industry’s lawsuit against California’s 2022 Age-Appropriate Design Code in order to save money. Here’s why that doesn’t make sense:

  • Vermont’s Kids Code is substantially different from California’s bill. Vermont lawmakers, Attorney General Clark and national legal experts examined the legal arguments related to the California bill and adapted and strengthened Vermont’s bill accordingly.
  • The lawsuit brought by Big Tech trade group NetChoice in California was designed to filibuster progress. This has been NetChoice’s strategy across the country, litigating any and all kids online safety bills. Other states have seen through this disingenuous effort and have continued to pass and enact bills to protect kids online, as Maryland did last month.
  • In testimony and again in a public statement, Attorney General Clark has shown strong support and assured legislators and voters that if Big Tech sued Vermont, her office could defend the law using existing resources. This directly contradicts the Governor’s veto justification.

REJECT MISLEADING BIG TECH LOBBYING: Vermont, like other states pursuing kids’ online safety and data privacy bills, has seen an influx of tech lobbying over the past several years.

  • Anti-Kids-Code lobbyists in Vermont and other states have been accused of not fully disclosing their affiliations and misrepresenting their positions during public hearings, undermining the legislative process.
  • During the Senate Economic Development hearings, Big Tech lobbying group Netchoice pretended not to know that their clients were large social media platforms.
  • Anti-Kids-Code tech companies are known to employ indirect methods such as funding local think tanks, community groups, businesses and former state officials to influence policy outcomes.

RESPOND TO COMMUNITY CALLS FOR ACTION: Vermont’s groundswell of community support for the Kids Code and data privacy continues to grow even stronger – parents, families and community organizations do not want to see this legislation derailed.

  • Earlier this month, parents, kids, small business leaders and advocates joined forces outside Burlington City Hall to call on Governor Phil Scott to sign H.121.
  • Last month, dozens of Vermont parents and families sent a letter to Governor Scott requesting a meeting to discuss the urgent need for action on the Kids Code to protect young people’s safety and privacy online, and calling on him to resist out-of-state industry pressure to veto H.121.
  • In addition, more than a dozen organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter, business leaders Front Porch Forum and youth-led advocacy group Design It For Us – sent a letter to the Governor in support of the bill and its Kids Code provisions.